If you call 9-1-1 to complain that your neighbor's outdoor cigar smoking is drifting over your fence and polluting your life, chances are your complaint will be forwarded to Seattle Police Sergeant Paul Gracy. An affable 31-year-veteran with the Seattle Police Department, he runs the West Precinct's community police team, and he's nothing like the shitty cops who have dominated local headlines. So I went to talk to him.
- Sgt. Gracy shows off a toothbrush, one of the many things his team hands out to the homeless.
This sort of function—building a good rapport with residents—is exactly what SPD needs more of to combat the public's negative associations with less friendly cops. "A lot of interactions people have stem from public fights, robberies, being pulled over, generally the bad stuff," he says. "This is our opportunity to reach out to other folks and be extremely positive and helpful, even if it's only in minor ways."
A typical day for Gracy's team? Driving cold-weather vans around to hand out food, socks, and free rides to shelters. Or visiting with school children. Or calling the Seattle Department of Transportation on behalf of a neighbor to report bad lighting or a crumbling sidewalk. Or linking mentally ill people up with the appropriate services. "It doesn't matter which population we're dealing with, it takes multiple contacts to build trust," Gracy explains. "But every positive encounter helps build our good reputation."
In that vein, Gracy has a golden nugget of advice for Seattle's beat cops who're publicly bearing the brunt of a bad reputation earned by a handful of their peers:
"They need to treat individuals how the want to be treated," he says. Every day beat cops deal with individuals in traumatic situations who unthinkingly transfer their fear and aggression to first-responding officers. "Some officers internalize that, some officers get defensive—they’re tired of getting yelled at—but they need to act professional at all times," says Gracy. "They need to not take it personally. It’d be nice if everyone liked us. But when you arrest people, a certain level of dislike comes with the territory, so the most honorable thing we can do is be as nice as humanly possible in the face of anything that's thrown our way. It's a simple thing—being nice. But it reminds people we're hear to help, not just police. And that, ultimately, is what we're all about."